Tri-Tip: Trimmed or Untrimmed?

by tipsy on August 26, 2011


"Should I buy tri-tip trimmed or un-trimmed?"

If you find tri-tip in your grocer's meat section, you may be faced with a choice between "trimmed" or "untrimmed." Some grocery stores really get all fancy-pants and label their tri-tip as "hand-trimmed." Which is best for cooking? Is it really worth paying more for trimmed tri-tip? Just what the heck are they trimming anyway?


Trimmed tri-tip at the meat counter.

What is trimmed from the tri-tip?
A whole tri-tip naturally comes with one side covered in a solid layer of fat. The fat layer can range from ? to ½ inch thick. The tri-tip is usually packed fat-side down, so it can be a little tough to tell how much you're getting when you buy an un-trimmed piece.

Some people buy their tri-tip un-trimmed, because it's cheaper, and then they trim it at home. That slab of fat can amount to nearly a pound of the total weight! So if it's just cut off and thrown out, the buyer is not only spending time trimming it at home, but also tossing money in the trash.

The price difference.
Trimmed tri-tip costs more than its untrimmed counterpart. That makes sense since someone had to spend time trimming that big slab of fat off each piece. It's common around here to see a difference of $1.50 to $2.00 per pound difference between trimmed and untrimmed tri-tip. Assuming you don't want all that fat left on the meat, is it worth the difference in price?

Let's do the math.

For our example, let's say untrimmed tri-tip is $4.97/lb. and trimmed tri-tip is $6.49/lb. At that price, an untrimmed, 3.5 lb. tri-tip would be $17.40.

Now, I have weighed the fat trimmed off of a 3.5 pound tri-tip. It weighed almost a pound. So I essentially paid $17.40 for a 2.5 pound tri-tip (after trimming).

So what would a 2.5 lb. trimmed tri-tip cost us? Using our example prices: $16.23. Plus, we spent some time trimming. Conclusion: Unless there is a sale on untrimmed tri-tip, trimmed is the best deal per pound.

But wait a minute! I love fat!
Okay, I'll admit, I do love crispy, browned fat from the grill. So maybe you want to leave that wonderful fatty goodness on the meat. I don't blame you.

Even though I love the flavor of the grilled fat, I still cook the trimmed version. A good tri-tip is already marbled with fat through the whole piece. As it cooks, the fat melts and bastes the meat, leaving it moist and juicy if cooked properly. (Click here to see "How to Cook a Tri-tip without Ruining It")

That being said, if you leave your tri-tip untrimmed, make sure to give it plenty of time fat-side up. Your goal is to let much of the fat melt away, basting the meat. Then when you flip it over to finish it, cook the fatty side with high heat so that it browns into a crispy piece of deliciousness.

More dripping fat means more chances for flare-ups on the grill, so prepare for that just in case.

Okay, now I'm hungry.


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